First chance to hear about speedy broccoli

Published: 21 February, 2017

A new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that removes reliance on seasonality and could double crop production will be discussed at an Agri-Tech East event at 13.00 on 22nd February at Centrum, Norwich Research Park.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) are developing a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in 8-10 weeks. It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions.

Dr Judith Irwin will be discussing the breakthrough; she explains that the part of the broccoli plant that we eat is the flower buds and there is a need for plants to experience a period of cold weather before they can flower. The timing of the switch to flowering is critical for a plant’s adaptation to the environment and its resulting yield.

“We harnessed our knowledge of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster. This means growers could turn around two field-based crops in one season, or if the broccoli is grown in protected conditions, 4-5 crops in a year.”

This breakthrough could help with continuity of supply, as growers would no longer be reliant on seasonal weather conditions.

This innovation in crop production builds on the wealth of fundamental research carried out by Professor Dame Caroline Dean and her lab on vernalisation – the need for some plants to experience a period of cold weather before they can flower. Working collaboratively with Professor Dean, Dr Judith Irwin and her team focused on translating this knowledge to Brassica crop species.

The consequences of our changing climate are one of the main issues facing crop production. The UK’s reliance on imported vegetables is particularly acute with only 23% of our fruit and vegetables grown in the UK (British Food report 2017).

Dr Judith IrwinDr Irwin (pictured left) said: “This is a very exciting development as it has the potential to remove our exposure to seasonal weather fluctuations from crop production. This could mean broccoli – and in future other vegetables where the flower is eaten, for example, cauliflowers – can be grown anywhere at any time enabling continuous production and supply of fresh local produce.”

Judith and her team identified the new line as part of JIC’s GRO Institute Strategic Programme. They were surprised to see how rapidly it grew from seed to harvestable sprouting broccoli spears. Detailed analysis identified the gene responsible for this trait. They are now testing further generations under conventional glasshouse and controlled environment conditions. This line has been developed using conventional breeding techniques.

In order for this experimental line to move towards commercialisation the next steps involve flavour and nutritional analysis and performance testing under true protected and field commercial growing conditions.

Dr Irwin will discuss the new line of broccoli at an Agri-Tech East’s ‘Nutritious and Delicious’ event at the Centrum , Norwich on 22 February.